African Proverbs on Food (Ninety-one Proverbs from the Bukusu and Five from the Kikuyu in Kenya)
Collected and Explained By Doctor Elizabeth Nafula Kuria, Kenyatta University, Department of Foods, Nutrition and Dietetics, Nairobi, Kenya.
Nairobi, Kenya: Privately photocopied, April, 2002. 22 pages.
Reviewed by John P. Mbonde
This 22-page monograph is a project sponsored by the Maryknoll missionaries. Among Africans proverbs using food are used to give meaning to issues related not only to food but also to morals, life experiences and skills for daily living. Hence among the Bukusu and Kikuyu ethnic groups in Kenya some of these proverbs indicate the moral convictions, skills for living and even aspects of etiquette in addition to aspects on food.
The presentation of these proverbs looks at the proverbs using food and eating habits to explain meaning related to food. The proverbs are used to explain or communicate moral values unrelated to food in the communities in which they are used. Biblical references on using either food or related parallels of the proverb are given. Where the biblical reference is lacking, a parallel in relation to contemporary use in society is provided.
Let’s cite one example from each of the Bukusu and Kikuyu proverbs in order to substantiate the about statement. Each proverb is given first in the original language and then is translated into Swahili and English. Number 11 on page 6 of the 91 Bukusu proverbs goes:
Okhalia weng’ene tawe. (Bukusu)
Usikule [usile] peke yako. (Swahili)
Do not eat alone. (English)
Eat with others. Do not be selfish. Christ’s offer of abundant life is made available to all. The inclusiveness of Christ is seen especially in His parables about meals such as the great banquet in Luke: 14:16–24. Emphasis is on the generosity of God’s invitation to all that does not discriminate among those invited on the grounds of their merits, abilities, beliefs or moral standing. It encourages sharing with others.
Number 2 on page 21 of the five Kikuyu proverbs goes:
Mwana abona egagilia nyina thaani. (Kikuyu)
Mtoto akishiba hutupia (humtupia) mama yake sahani. (Swahili)
When the child is satisfied, he throws the plate to his mother. (English)
“He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did it so that you would never think that it was your own strength and energy that made you wealthy” (Dt: 8:16 –18).
In fact, Dr. Elizabeth Kuria has artistically and vividly explained how rich the African proverbs are in transforming the daily life of the community, both bodily and spiritually. Her contribution is just a small tip of the iceberg of the enormous treasure of African traditional oral literature that has to be preserved in written literature, now or never, for the heritage of the coming generations. The challenge she has given is very timely and commendable to other ethnic cultural groups all over Africa.
John P. Mbonde is a retired Tanzanian civil servant, journalist, and author of books, book reviewer and analyst of African literature. He has travelled all over the world on academic and study tours.
Mr. John P. Mbonde
P.O. Box 3479
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.